The Baltimore Orioles, who rarely have entered the free agent market, drafted 12 veteran free agents yesterday, among them designated hitters Andre Thornton and Cliff Johnson and name players Bruce Sutter, Rick Sutcliffe, Fred Lynn and Dennis Eckersley.
"We will definitely be going into the market," the team's owner, Edward Bennett Williams, said after the 23-round draft. "We are going to try to repair the holes we had last year. We are obviously in the market for a designated hitter since our DH of last year (Ken Singleton) is no longer with us."
The other players the Orioles drafted and will try to sign are outfielders Lee Lacy and Sixto Lezcano; infielder Rob Wilfong and pitchers Steve Trout, Ed Whitson and Don Aase. Williams said the decision to draft four starting pitchers (Sutcliffe, Eckersley, Trout and Whitson) does not mean the team considers its starting pitching weak.
"We do not have a hole in our starting pitching," he said. "But if we were to pick up another starter, that could put us in a stronger position from which to make trades."
The player the Orioles especially want is Thornton, the Cleveland Indians' 36-year-old designated hitter who hit 33 home runs and drove in 99 runs this year. He was drafted by seven teams, including the New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays and Milwaukee Brewers in the American League East. Johnson was apparently claimed as a second choice should the Orioles not be able to sign Thornton.
Like other teams, the Orioles would love to get Sutter, who had 45 saves for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1984. He also was drafted by the Yankees, California Angels and Atlanta Braves, teams that have been willing to pay huge prices for free agents.
The Orioles may have a better chance to sign Aase, who came back from two years of arm trouble late last season to go 4-1 with a 1.62 ERA out of the California bullpen. Aase, because he will ask so much less than Sutter, was taken by 13 teams.
Sutcliffe, the National League's Cy Young award winner, is expected to re-sign with the Chicago Cubs. Nevertheless, eight clubs, including the Yankees, Kansas City Royals (Sutcliffe is from the Kansas City area) and the Braves, picked him. Trout, the Cubs' No. 2 starter with a 13-7 record, was taken by 17 teams, the most of any of the 56 players in the draft. Eckersley, the Cubs' third starter, was 8-8 after being obtained from the Boston Red Sox.
Another player who could help the Orioles considerably is Lacy, who hit .321 for Pittsburgh this year. He was drafted by 14 teams and will draw considerable attention in both leagues. Unlike Thornton and Johnson, who are primarily designated hitters, Lacy, whose rights were retained by the Pirates, can play the outfield.
Lynn, who signed a huge contract with the Angels as a free agent five years ago, may have to settle for less this time around at age 32. He was chosen by four teams besides the Orioles, including the Yankees, who are reportedly very interested in him.
Twenty-three teams drafted players. The world champion Detroit Tigers, the Cubs and the New York Mets were the only teams not drafting.
The draft took 51 minutes. Thirty-seven of the 56 players were chosen by fewer than four teams, meaning they can negotiate with all 26 major league teams. Of those 37 players, 23 were not drafted at all. Designated hitter Dave Kingman of Oakland, who hit 35 home runs this year, was drafted only by the Pirates. No team drafted Singleton.
"We have an interest in all the players that we drafted," Williams said. "Obviously, though, there are some we will pursue more intensely than the others."